Consumers are so distrustful of Microsoft that Apple could double its market share as disaffected users dump the Windows OS, a Forrester Research report claims.

The report looks at brand identity and the importance of branding. The report also evaluates the effect a brand has on the pricing of company products and the demographic make-up of consumers who purchase them.

Apple gains trust

Overall, only Apple and Tivo saw their brand trust rise in the last two years, according to the report. The final tally saw Bose, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Panasonic and Sony earn the highest marks, while Microsoft, Gateway and LG ranked lowest.

The low scores for Microsoft could mean good news for Apple as consumers showed their distrust of the Redmond-based software-giant.

Microsoft's crumbling empire

"Microsoft faces big consumer defection risk: one measure of consumer dissatisfaction with Microsoft is seen in the 5.4 million households that gave it a brand trust of 1 (distrust a lot) or 2 (distrust a bit)," the report said.

"Compared with all Microsoft users, these at-risk users have higher income, are much more likely to be male and are bigger online spenders. These households know they run Microsoft software but would be just as happy to leave it behind - if they could. Apple could double its PC share by winning Microsoft's at-risk customers."

The demographic of Microsoft's at-risk customers fits well with Apple's user base, which Forrester describes as "affluent, optimistic about technology and brand aware."

The study period took place before Apple introduced Boot Camp. which lets Intel Mac users install Windows XP on their machines, enabling them to boot up in either OS.

The Apple iPod difference

Forrester's findings introduced some concerns. For example, the research firm found that Apple's brand recognition fails to encompass the iPod.

"The Apple brand adoption data looks wrong - after all, the company has sold 42 million iPods, far more than the 5.2 million households that claim to use the Apple brand regularly - until you realise that 'Apple Computer' is not the same brand as 'iPod'," the Forrester report said.

Forrester says that Apple should link the iPod more strongly to the Apple brand in future advertising. This would also link potential customers to the higher margin computer products.

However, a more direct link between the Apple brand and its music products it the self-same connection that is seeing Apple Computer confronted in a major trademark abuse trial by the Beatles' Apple Corps in the UK courts.

Cupertino must keep reaching out

The second problem for Apple is the big differences between its regular users and its aspiring users. While Mac users may be affluent and optimistic, aspiring Apple customers have lower incomes and are more pessimistic about technology in general.

Apple has been trying to reach entry-level customers with products like the Mac mini, but the report stresses it must continue to reach out to consumers.

"Those who plan to use Apple in the future have on average a third less income and bigger families," said the report. "To reach those seven million US households, Apple must continually remind them that its pricing is competitive and its products are accessible to everyone."